As I said in Democratic Campaigning 1, Republicans have managed to convince most Americans that if the Federal Government tries to do anything for the people’s benefit, individual voters will wind up getting screwed. How have they been able to accomplish this?
As is often the case, they were able to take a molehill of truth and advertise it into a mountain of belief. Marketing and advertising are beyond the scope of this essay save to note that merchants will spend 5 million dollars without batting an eye to put 30 seconds of their message before all the Americans who watch the Super Bowl. I take this as proof that advertising works.
I address elsewhere what I think our message should be. In this essay I will address instead that molehill of truth that laid us open to the belief, utterly devastating to Democratic Party electoral success, that the government is more likely to screw everyday Americans than to help them.
Humans often think the way to solve a problem is by prohibiting people from doing this or that thing, and by forcing them to do this or that other thing. Two sure ways to annoy people is to tell them what they must do and what they must not do. “Eat your spinach” has never been that popular. In fact, it rates right up there with “Don’t eat that doughnut.”
Have you ever heard the phrase “Nanny state”? Did it sound like a good thing to you?
Take for example the Affordable Care Act, ACA. Obamacare.
Just for starters, it’s not even a Democratic idea. We stole it from Republicans. It shouldn’t be called Obamacare; it should be called Romneycare. Or HeritageCare. Governor Mitt started with a “market based” system from a Republican think tank and got it enacted in Massachusetts before Barack Obama ever became President. Poor innocent President Obama thought if he got a Republican health care solution enacted by a fractious Democratic Congress the Republicans would have the honor and decency to accept their own idea as the law of the land. Unfortunately he was President in a dishonorable age so it didn’t work out that way.
The basis of the Heritage Foundation’s health care plan was textbook Corporate Nanny State: all Americans would be forced to purchase health insurance from for-profit corporations. Since said corporations would have a steady income stream from healthy young people they would be able to operate at a profit while simultaneously paying their executives multi-million dollar annual salaries and providing care for the ill and aging portions of the population.
This forced private market transaction would be enforced by tax penalties for anyone who didn’t knuckle under.
In return for the having the government force all Americans to buy their product whether they wanted to or not, the insurance companies would agree to actually provide a decent level of care for the sick, even the already sick.
Leaving aside the various tricks, traps, and implementation failures, how could the Democratic Party be surprised when this made a huge number of Americans angry?
If you don’t buy something expensive that you don’t think you need and don’t particularly want, the government is going to tax you extra. But if or when you get sick or hurt you’ll be glad you’ve got it.
Marketing brilliance, this. Eat. Your. Spinach.
I propose that, instead, the Democratic Congress and Democratic President should have gotten together and passed a bill providing free health care for all who wanted it, and left the for-profit health industry entirely alone to sink or swim on its own.
Millions of Americans believe that they can get better care by paying for it than the government could give them for free. Let them.
Millions of Americans can’t get any care at all by paying for it because they don’t have enough money. Care for them.
No spinach unless you want it. You want that doughnut, eat the doughnut.
We are, after all, not Europe. We don’t have to do it Europe’s way. We brag about our freedom: let Americans choose.
Or look at global warming. If you didn’t know better you’d think that absolutely the only way to fix global warming is by taxing carbon emissions at a high enough rate to be painful, under the theory that to avoid the pain people will figure out ways to quit emitting so much carbon.
Pardon me, but this is stupid beyond words. No wonder so many Americans “don’t believe in” global warming. They’re not entirely stupid. You have already told them that admitting that global warming exists is going to cost them money.
Then you wonder why they won’t vote for you.
In broad terms, as Democrats we need to look to our roots with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Make people’s lives easier through government. Make it voluntary. FDR didn’t tell people that absolutely had to go to the WPA or the CCC. He offered the services to them in terms they could see were to their benefit. He did require them to participate in Social Security, but that tax was not used as a punitive device.
The two major recent Democratic tax ideas have been punitive. Buy insurance or we’ll punish you with taxes. Emit carbon and we’ll punish you with taxes.
And we wonder why Republicans can convince people that taxes are punitive.
There is, as we say out here in the sticks, more than one way to skin a cat. (No, don’t ask me. I have no idea why anybody would ever want to skin a cat.)
We have to do one major thing for Americans: use government to solve their problems. We have to do it in one particular way: so it doesn’t hurt them.
My ideas aren’t the only ideas, but any idea which can be summed up as “Eat your spinach,” needs to be put on the back burner. We can do this better.